TNSF is proud to announce our first Web Resident will be DW McKinney.
DW McKinney received degrees in biology and anthropology. She gave up working in an office to nurture her love for storytelling then went back to the office when she wasn’t making any money. Her work centers blackness, womanhood, identity, mental health, and motherhood, as well as the fantastic and magical. She recently won Boston Accent Lit’s “Wicked Short” Nonfiction Contest and is the reviews editor for Linden Avenue Literary Journal. She lives in Nevada with her husband and two children.
Follow her on dwmckinney.com.
As part the TNSF 2020 Resident, McKinney will publish four pieces of fiction with us, curate two issues of the zine, and interview several other writers published on the zine. Next week we will publish her short story “Rebirth.”
Recently, we interviewed McKinney about her writing process and influences; you can read her responses below.
Who are your influences? What is it about their work that inspires you?
I have many, but here are a few:
Grace Jones is…there is no word for her. The woman is like the universe. She lives in color. She inspires me to embody myself at all times and to make bold art.
Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and John Steinbeck (specifically East of Eden) have been instrumental in demonstrating how to bend language and description. How to write a story that keeps you riveted and shouting and ready to restart it when you finish. How to twist concepts on the page.
Angela Nissel and David Sedaris inspire me to be funny and lighthearted. That it’s okay if I want to talk about the mundane or a weird growth on my body. From reading Nissel in college, I learned that it was okay to put my stories on paper and that they would be read. With Sedaris, he showed me that it’s okay to be a bit self-critical, if you do it right, and to occasionally expand my writing gaze farther beyond myself.
Anne Lamott was the first Christian writer who gave me permission to include my beliefs in my writing. I thought I had to write for LifeWay, but it’s possible to be faithful to my beliefs and true to my voice without being corny or sterilizing my experiences.
NK Jemisin and Kehinde Wiley both deal in Black identity and vibrancy. They challenge my comprehension of what I’ve been taught. I’m seen in their work and I want to continue that legacy of others feeling represented in my work. Jemisin and Wiley remind me to get in where I fit in and that sometimes we’ve been fooled into thinking we don’t fit in some place.
And also, Vogue, which is more of a what than a who. Fashion is coupled to storytelling. It helps me envision more dynamic universes for my characters and bolsters my self-expression.
If you had to pick three books that have had a significant influence on you and/or on your writing, what would they be and why?
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou sits in my heart like a song. It rocked me the first time read it in grade school and stirred up a long-buried thing inside me. When I read it again in high school, it cracked me all the way open. Maya Angelou’s autobiography has carried me through multiple stages of my life. There are passages that resonate to my core and passages that make me sit still. Her words and her story are a mirror; I see myself reflected in ways that I have not in other literary works.
I have a complicated reading relationship with Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. I read it in high school and it has bothered me since. It’s deeply problematic, yet I have a copy that, every time I try to recycle or donate, I end up reclaiming. I know this book is a classic and folks praise it for presenting an unflinching account of Jim Crow. It forced me to scrutinize my everyday interactions. But I cannot overlook its implausibilities or its patronizing tone. This book spurred me to lend my authentic Black experience to the fray because there would always be a need to counteract harmful and distorted narratives about Black folks.
The first time I read The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton I stopped and flipped back through it, unsure of what I had just read. I was—and still am—captivated by the folklore and creativity, the wit and cunning in these tales. The People Could Fly inspires me to continue the legacy of telling stories—whether harsh, sad, or wondrous—with magic.
What drives you to write? Why does writing matter to you?
There’s so much going on in my head. Writing helps center me. It helps me process the difficult and helps release whatever I’m going through. I’m also encouraged by people who send me messages describing how an essay or story I wrote made them laugh or gave them comfort. There’s a sense of freedom. Writing is a process of healing that I try to extend beyond myself.
What have been the greatest challenges for you in your writing? How do you hope to overcome them?
Self-editing before I even put pen to paper is a huge challenge for me. I worry about how my work is going to be received because I am overly critical of myself and still working through past incidents that hampered my creative development. Writing essays or stories about pain and struggle also uncovers old traumas and criticisms and then my intrusive thoughts (OCD) really get going and then twenty minutes have passed and not a damn thing has been written. What has helped me is the constant reminder that whatever I write is not the end result, that I have to at least let the story breathe. I’ve also begun practicing affirmations—writing a single affirmation for ten minutes before a writing session. After I do this, I’m not even thinking about outside opinions. I’m fully in my mojo, confident and writing away.
What do you most hope to get out of the residency with The New Southern Fugitives?
I’m hoping to find more confidence in my fiction writing. I haven’t exercised my creativity in this genre very much and every time I write a new story, I tend to rein myself in and stick to what I think most people will enjoy. I think the residency will give me more space to flex my experimental side. Given my educational background, I would also like to learn literary writing techniques from TNSF’s mentorship, through curating issues, and through interviewing other creatives. There’s much for me to learn and I’m eager to learn what I can.
What are you working on now?
I’m collaborating with an artist friend on a series of “doodleries.” We’re combining my short stories, about 100 words or less, with her doodles. The project is part Shel Silverstein, part Gary Larson, part Roald Dahl, part us. I’m also writing my memoir, which explores parentage and belonging.
What is your greatest writing strength? What is one writing weakness you hope to improve?
My greatest writing strength is my ideation. I get so many ideas, it’s hard to write them all down sometimes, but I have the seeds for many essays, stories, and a few books. While ideating, I let my mind wander and get weird, which is where I am the most comfortable. My greatest weakness is my dedication to my work. Writing gets into my blood like a bad virus and I cannot shake it. My momentum creates a tension that inhibits me from stepping away and letting the work breathe or to give myself space to let ideas marinate. My husband could come to my office to tell me the house is on fire and I would scare him away because I have to get the damn words out before they disappear. But the words will always be there, they’re in me.